The following eight questions serve as prompts for the different elements needed in properly establishing a distributed church.
Who immediately comes to mind as someone that would love to be in this with you? In addition to sharing responsibility for the church in general, who can help you:
Leadership needs to be shared so that the churches are lightweight and easy to manage. Shared responsibility also fosters the kind of community into which you are able to invite others, and models every member participation.
Who are the people that God is already bringing your way? Existing relationships that could find new expression and meaning in this context? (friends, hobby groups, work groups, school groups, neighbors) People you think could easily be engaged around this idea? Think about people with whom you could share the Gospel as well as those that aren’t as connected as they would like.
God has called the church to a purpose beyond itself because He has wired us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Pursuing that common purpose draws us together as a community and we experience the kind of relationships for which we were created. That is why identifying the people God has given your church the opportunity to serve is important, not just to reflect His image, but also because it draws people together at a greater depth.
The mission of your church is to make disciples. Serving others is a key means to accomplishing that mission. Are there people or groups with whom you are already in relationship that could be served in a new way with the full resources of your church family? It could be your neighbors, coworkers, local organizations (schools), or even a hobby group where you could contribute together.
O r, think about the gaps and segments of society that the church doesn't currently serve, or serves but the need is overwhelming: the homeless, hungry kids, those who are addicted, etc.
Will you walk through the First Principles series in your church gathering or in a small group that happens outside your church gathering? If your group includes children, how will you partner with the parents to disciple the children? (See Appendix 1 for resources)
In addition to giving you intentional discipleship and training by studying the key principles of following Jesus, the First Principles series will serve as a guide to establishing your church and creating a shared understanding for what it means to be the church. The series is often mistaken for a basic Bible study or devotional, but its primary purpose is to help a distributed church develop “a basic grasp of who they are as a believing community and how they fit into the plans and purposes of God”. In existing groups, it often works as a process of accidental church planting. (Note: you can use First Principles in your church gathering without necessarily getting out the book during the time together… the key leadership does the prep work and everyone talks about the Scripture when together.)
Work with your leadership team to think through the calendar implications. Initially the distributed church gathering around a meal works well; then figure out other layers to the gathering rhythms. Will you develop small groups (possibly for First Principles) that will happen outside the organized time? Will you periodically devote your gathering to a specific element? (service project, cookout for neighbors, etc) Try to think across a monthly or quarterly spectrum instead of a weekly spectrum. Everything doesn’t have to fit into each week, especially as people are transitioning to this way of life and adjusting their calendars.
How will you develop the organic connections between gatherings to move the church toward becoming a spiritual family? Are there ways you can pursue relationships with people, or foster relationships outside the organized gathering? The gathering will be a good starting point, but fully establishing your church likely will require initiative beyond scheduling the organized gathering. Text messages to say hello, listen for events happening within families and show up in support, have a consistent Bible reading plan, beach trip, etc. Could you also periodically dedicate some portion of your organized time toward this goal?
The goal is that every person participates and contributes in the life of the distributed church. God has gifted all of us for ministry and mission. How will you help people identify those gifts and 36 ncourage them to use their gifts? What are the things people are good at? What are the things they love? What are the things you can pray about as a community? If you have children and/or teenagers in your distributed church, how will they be encouraged to develop and use their gifts as well? (1 Tim. 4:12)
The specific methods can look different based on the context and the unique gifting of individuals, but it is important to establish the DNA of spontaneous expansion from the beginning. Multiplication, instead of something to be celebrated, can seem threatening to a group of people if not established as a goal from the beginning. Will the catalytic leader move on to start a new church as soon as this one has capable leadership? Will this entire church come alongside other potential leaders to help them start a church? Will emerging leaders from within your church be commissioned to start churches? Will you engage in all three practices?